Tag Archives: Ted Anton

Games of Love and Death

Hermetic Library Fellow John Michael Greer reviews Eros, Magic, and the Murder of Professor Culianu [Bookshop, Amazon] by Ted Anton at Games of Love and Death in the Caduceus archive.

Anton Eros Magic and the Murder of Professor Culianu

Joan Petru Culianu, whose meteoric career in academic circles came to an abrupt end via an assassin’s bullet in 1991, remains at once the most intriguing and the most enigmatic of modern scholars of the occult. His major works on the subject — Eros and Magic in the Renaissance, Out Of This World, and The Tree of Gnosis — and his many articles and essays show at once a deep familiarity with the sources and a rare willingness to take them seriously. Probably no one of his generation has had a greater effect on the way magical traditions are understood in current scholarship. Behind the publications and academic honors, though, lies a life that is in many ways more intriguing still.

Ted Anton’s Eros, Magic, and the Murder of Professor Culianu is a capable attempt at tracing the outlines of that life, from Culianu’s childhood and youth in Romania through his defection to the West, his academic posts in Italy, the Netherlands and the United States, his collaboration with the famed historian of religions Mircea Eliade, and his involvement with Romanian politics after the 1989 revolution — an involvement that apparently brought about his death. Through the entire course of his life, two sides of Culianu can be seen, sometimes cooperating, sometimes in conflict: one, highly ambitious and focused on climbing his way up the ladder of academic success; the other, deeply involved in the magical traditions of the Renaissance not merely as a scholar but as a practitioner.

It’s by portraying this second facet that this book is likely to make its greatest contribution to an understanding of Culianu’s thought, and of Culianu himself. The esoteric involvements of the academically respectable tend, even now, to be hushed up as though they were the dirtier kind of family secrets; the case of W.B. Yeats, whose Golden Dawn activities were systematically ignored by the critical community until Virginia Moore’s The Unicorn forced the issue, is only one of many examples. Those who might wish to think of Culianu as a detached, purely academic chronicler of magical traditions, though, will receive little help from Anton’s book. An early involvement with yoga — Romanian friends recalled him practicing up to five hours a day — led Culianu on to a wide range of involvements with practical occultism, from a habit of doing geomantic divination at parties on up to the systematic use of talismans and of Giordano Bruno’s magical Art of Memory. These arts, central to so much of his life, also had a part to play in his death; his passionate articles in the Romanian emigre press criticizing the post-Communist government of his homeland, the writings that apparently brought about his assassination, were structured according to the same magical principles of manipulation through emotionally charged imagery that he described in detail in Eros and Magic in the Renaissance.

Many practitioners of Western magic may disagree with substantial parts of Culianu’s interpretation of occultism, an interpretation which focused on manipulation and control and largely ignored the mystical, transpersonal aspects of the magical arts. Still, Culianu’s works are the product of practical experience, not merely armchair theorizing, and well worth studying for that reason alone — and Anton’s book provides a useful and intelligent introduction to the man and his ideas.

Eros, Magic and the Murder of Professor Culianu

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Eros, Magic, and the Murder of Professor Culianu by Ted Anton.

The greater portion of Ted Anton’s Eros, Magic and the Murder of Professor Culianu is a biography of the slain historian of religions, a Romanian national defector who was ascending to an accomplished position at the University of Chicago in the footsteps of his countryman Mircea Eliade. Anton’s long-form journalistic approach braids the biographical narrative intriguingly with accounts of Culianu’s own scholarship and writing of fantastic fiction. I think I’ve read a little over half of the academic works that are available in English under Culianu’s byline, and this book does a decent job of glossing their theses and contents. Additionally, it has interested me in the volumes that he issued under Eliade’s name after the older scholar’s death, pointing out the extent to which Culianu used these as vehicles for his own bolder ideas.

The title Eros, Magic … evokes Culianu’s own seminal study Eros and Magic in the Renaissance, but the Murder of Professor Culianu is necessarily the event towards which the entire book is oriented. Culianu’s daylight assassination at the University of Chicago Divinity School is still officially unsolved. Anton gives plenty of reasons for readers to suspect the involvement of the Romanian Intelligence Service (RSI), but efforts of the Chicago police and FBI to identify the murderer(s) were dilatory, ineffective, and possibly even compromised.

The book reads very quickly, with short chapters and engaging prose. There was an odd clinker, where Anton quoted Culianu’s secretary bewailing his murder with “Not Mr. Culianu!” (17) And similarly, Anton has Culianu himself drolly remark, “Mr. Eliade had some pretty daring ideas after he died” (228). Having had a little firsthand experience of the University of Chicago, an institution that lionizes its faculty while sorely indenturing graduate students and treating undergraduates with grudging tolerance, I find it nearly impossible to imagine the title Mister rather than Doctor being applied to either of these men by their colleagues or staff.

The event of Culianu’s murder begins the book, and returns at the end of the biography proper. Then the narrative proceeds to the funeral events and the murder investigation. All along, there are parallel accounts of developments in Romanian politics (a story that was new to me in many details). Culianu’s engagement with current events in his native country waxed and waned, and he never returned in person. But his relationship to Eliade–perhaps the most lauded Romanian scholar of the century–made him an object of Romanian attention, which he sometimes leveraged through philippics published in Romania and abroad.

Perhaps the most surprising bit of the book was the appearance, after Culianu’s death, of a suburban Chicago couple who claimed to be receiving spiritualist communications about the murder by somniloquy. This peculiar episode seems to have come from nowhere and led to nothing, but it cannot be dismissed as irrelevant, especially considering Culianu’s personal and professional interests in the paranormal. But even eerier was Culianu’s own longstanding fascination with the Borges story “Death and the Compass,” and the ways in which he seemed to have divined his own murder.

Anton undertook this book while working at DePaul University in Chicago. It really pulls together an impressive amount of research. It had been on my shelf waiting for me for several years, and I’m glad I finally got around to reading it. [via]